Zach: Chicago’s Gay Educator


Last week Chicago celebrated marriage for all, supporting gay marriage. It’s good to know that Illinois is one of the most forward thinking state that favors equality for all. We haven’t talked much about Gay Chicago but I have found that this city is more accepting than many cities I’ve lived in before, allowing for the development and growth for the gay community.

I thought it would be a good idea to chat with one of the classiest dressed men I’ve come across- Mr. Zach Stafford.  Zach is a Tennessee born writer currently living in Chicago, “I moved here to attend undergrad at DePaul University and it seems like the city just won’t let me go.” He has written for a broad range of outlets including The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, Slate, USA Today (and more) and is currently a columnist at the Chicago Tribune’s daily paper the RedEye. Recently this year,  Stafford published the anthology BOYS, which is co-edited and curated.  I met Zach at a photo-shoot. He was very humble, full of smiles and calmly intelligent. His dress style in his own words are “Warm, modern, and Southern”.

Me: How did you being your writing career?
JS: Completely by accident. While in college and prepping for graduate school I was focused on publishing in academic journals. However, after I published my first article that was super academic and technical- no one really could understood what I was talking about. So I decided to explore with writing more mainstream stuff.  I started writing at USAToday’s College section and fell in love with it. And the rest is history, I guess.
Me: What did you study then?
ZS:  My undergrad is in Women’s and Gender Studies and after that I got into graduate school to do a Master’s and PhD in Cultural Geography. Upon getting into grad school, I decided to hold off and pursue other interests. I plan on eventually going back to school, I just think right now I need to be focused on my writing. However, what I was going to specialize in graduate school is still a huge part of my work. A lot of my writing is interested in the relationship between places and people, which is also why I love Chicago so much. I think our city breathes and feels just as much as the people that live in it do. 
Zach enjoys traveling, I was in Spain last summer and fell in love after I got over the culture shock. I am pretty obsessed with working and never taking a break, and I remember my first day in Madrid I was baffled that the city literally stopped in the afternoon for a siesta. I was like: Why is nothing open? Why isn’t any one working?!” 
Me: Some people find it difficult to write, how to you recommend they start? 
ZS: I think for anyone to be a good writer they must, must, read. And after you read, then write when you want to. I don’t really believe in the forced writing that some writers put themselves through. I recently saw Junot Diaz give a talk for Chicago Humanities Festival and he gave some of the best advice for writers that I’ve heard. He said: If you’re a young writer than don’t write. Go out and spend a few years living and then come back to writing. Of course I haven’t stopped writing, but I have made a huge effort to live more. And I think I am a better writer because of it. 
Me: I can’t even look at my personal journal growing up in fear of embarrassment of what I wrote! Getting your feelings out on paper or across is also challenging. Where did you find the confidence to share your thoughts and feelings to the world?
ZS: Wine and a friend, ha ha. But really, I think readers push me. I write a lot of LGBT non-fiction so I am sharing sometimes very personal things that just a few years ago would have never been published, and it’ can be so hard to share that with the world. It’s frightening actually. But I always remind myself that someone will read this and it may help them in some way and that makes it worth it. 
Me: I agree. Hmm, so who has been an inspirational figure in your life?
ZS: All the gay people that came before me. The writers, the activists, the dreamers. People especially like James Baldwin. I think about everyone who paved the road for me to write and I am eternally grateful for the courage and bravery. 
I asked Zach if he had any special talents after I did a little Pavarotti inspired, operatic ‘Yaaaay’.. 
ZS: I cook! Before I was a writer I actually cooked professionally and did weddings, events, etc. Cooking and baking are so important to me beyond being a form of art, but as a form of therapy. If I am upset or have had a bad day, nothing calms me or centers me more than creating a meal and sharing it with people I love. Also, cooking is the only art form that you create a beautiful piece of work and then consume it. It’s really a beautiful thing. 
Me: I can’t wait for your invite, yum. Growing up, what developed to become your fondest of memories?
ZS: I love movie theaters. Movie theaters and museums are the places where people should look if I go missing. When I was an early-teen, every Friday night everyone would go to the movies. No one really watched the movies, but we all hung out there. It went to my favorite bar but no one drank. The world seemed so big then and this was just the thing to do. Now I just laugh at the thought that the highlight of my week was hanging out in the lobby of my town’s movie theatre just gossiping, eating popcorn and being a kid.Zach
Me: I always loved getting lost or escaping with film as well and then came online-ing. Social media is eating up the world right now. How do you feel about it?
ZS: I love it! I think it’s amazing that everyone has a voice online and can share it with everyone. But in the same breath, I find social media to be terribly annoying sometimes. I think some people need to really think before they tweet or Instagram more. But, hey, it’s America and they have that freedom of speech…so you go, Glen Coco! 
Me: Haha, would you say we live in an age where its hard to maintain privacy?
ZS: Most definitely, but it’s also through our own doing I laugh when people say things like: “Oh I have a private Facebook and a professional one”. That is now not possibly. When you participate in any thing online their is no privacy, it’s all public. 
Me: I seriously don’t have 2 FB accounts or 2 Instas, I promise (heehee). I know that it’s only a natural progression to write a book. But who inspired you and what kept you going?
ZS: I think I could say social media inspired me. Everyday I see amazing pieces of work published on the internet, amazing conversations take place on Twitter and I could keep going. The book was an effort to reach out to some of these people producing work all over the internet and the world by bring them together in this neat package. I have always loved anthologies, so it was no surprise that the first book I would co-author would be an anthology. 
Me: Chicago questions! How has Chicago contributed to your success?
ZS: God, I think in so many ways I can’t even count. Chicago is the first place I landed when leaving Tennessee as a teen and the city has really pushed me to grow not only as a writer, but as a human. I am forever indebted to this city. 
Me: You know I was going to ask this- What do you think of the art and fashion scene here?
ZS: Lately, I have noticed this budding fashion scene that is very impressive. Years ago I would meet fashion bloggers and writers in LA or NYC and I never considered Chicago to be in that conversation. But now, I think some of the most progressive fashion writing, design and art is coming out of the Midwest. I think 2014 will be a big year for Chicago and the arts. 
Me: I’m so following you on that prediction! Do you plan on living here for a while?
ZS: I am here for now, but very open to a change. In my perfect world I would make Chicago my home-base and just travel 70% of the time.
Me: Hurrah for gay marriage! Are you planning on getting married anytime soon 😉 ?
ZS: Ummmm…unfortunately no. I am still very single, so unless Prince Charming comes around soon and we fall tragically in love very quickly, then I don’t see myself married for a while. I do have friends that are now planning their nuptials, which I am super excited about. These gay weddings are going to become my favorite things to go to, I am quite sure. 
Me: It was my way of asking are you single, haha! Have you had challenges growing up as a gay man?
ZS: I have had many challenges and a lot of my writing talks about it. I think Chicago has helped me dramatically with making me a more confident person because I have met so many different types of people doing amazing things. Where I am from it’s pretty homogenous, so to see you can be different and still have an amazing life has probably been huge for me. 
Me: What quote do you live by?
 ZS: My father used to say: How do you expect to G-E-T unless you A-S-K? I think about that all the time when writing and publishing, especially with BOYS. And it works! I swear. Like, I am always surprised what you can get if you just ask. 
BOYS, debuted on for e-books. The print version will be out late-2013

More from Nancy Rahman

Modern Parenting: How to help your child deal with stress

Adults often complain they are “stressed out.” Increasingly, statistics show, American children...
Read More